There are lots of tools out there for supporting your mental health, but today I want to highlight a combination that I feel is particularly impactful and effective: journaling and friendships. How can writing down your thoughts and opening up to a supportive friend help? Let’s find out.
What is journaling and how do you do it?
Journaling involves writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper. To do it, pull out a piece of paper and pen and write whatever comes to your mind for at least 15 to 20 minutes (or longer, if you’d like). This is called stream of consciousness journaling.
Your writing session might start out with more surface-level thoughts, but as you continue writing, deeper thoughts and feelings often come up. Don’t censor yourself—let all of your thoughts and feelings spill out onto the paper, no matter what they are. This is for your eyes only so let everything out.
Why is journaling helpful?
Journaling can be beneficial for your mental health for a few reasons. It can help you gain clarity about what you’re thinking and feeling. Oftentimes, we’re so busy and distracted in our daily lives that our innermost thoughts and feelings don’t have a chance to be heard and felt. Being mindful of what you’re thinking and feeling is important, as it allows you to understand yourself and those around you, pinpoint what’s causing you stress or anxiety, identify negative thought patterns and behaviors, come to terms with things in your life, set goals, and develop plans.
Journaling can also help by giving you a way to clear your mental clutter. While it might seem counterintuitive, writing down your wandering thoughts and concerns actually encourages your brain to slow down and relax. By writing these things down, we acknowledge them and process them, which naturally leads to less rumination.
Lastly, journaling can be a huge stress release. Many people tend to bottle up frustrations and feelings. Dumping your thoughts and feelings onto paper is similar to releasing steam from a pressure cooker. You might not even be aware of all the stuff you’re holding in until you give yourself permission to let it out.
How does having friendships benefit your mental health?
While journaling is very powerful in and of itself, having close friendships can also be incredibly valuable. Having friends not only opens the door to tons of joyful experiences, but also provides another layer of mental health support. Sharing vulnerable thoughts, feelings, or concerns with your friends can help you feel less alone, promote self-acceptance, and process your experiences. Your friends may even offer perspectives and ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
Sharing difficult things with friends also has a tendency to make challenges feel less serious. How many times have you been having a serious conversation with a friend only to be laughing about it a few minutes later? While that’s not to say that you can laugh all your difficulties away, finding humor in challenges can make difficult things seem less overwhelming.
A powerful duo: journaling and friendships
When practiced regularly, journaling and openly talking with close friends can go a long way in supporting your mental health. The combination of introspection (journaling) and social sharing (friendships) offers an effective, holistic way to process feelings, consider different perspectives, and support your happiness.
Making mental health support more accessible
While I am all for seeing a therapist and believe that doing so is a great way to support your mental health, I also acknowledge that attending therapy is not possible for everyone. Therapy sessions are expensive and many people simply can’t afford to talk to a professional once a week.
The combination of journaling and talking with close friends can help you achieve incredible results without therapy. This isn’t just conjecture either—both of these practices are backed by science.
Countless studies show that journaling about your thoughts and feelings for as little as 15 minutes three days a week can lead to increased feelings of well-being and fewer depressive symptoms. Similarly, research shows that having close friendships can increase your happiness, sense of belonging, and purpose, while decreasing your stress.
Journaling and sharing your feelings with friends can do wonders for your mental health. When regularly incorporated into your life, they can help regulate your emotions, increase your awareness, help you feel less alone, and decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. Bonus? They’re free! You can’t get much better than that.